Understanding Powers of Attorney

As an attorney I am often asked to draft a Power of Attorney for a client. There are a number of misunderstandings regarding this document.

There are two main people involved in a Power of Attorney. The first is the Principal, the second is the Agent. A power of attorney give the Agent authority to act on behalf of the Principal in conducting various business transactions. A prospective agent cannot ask an attorney to draft a Power of Attorney giving him the right to act on behalf of the Principal; the Principal must request the power of attorney.

There are numerous types of Powers of Attorney; the two most common are the Statutory Durable Power of Attorney and the Medical Power of Attorney. Each of them accomplishes different goals.

Statutory Durable Power of Attorney

A Statutory Durable Power of Attorney gives the agent the right to transact business on behalf of the principal. It can be as broad or as limited as the Principal wishes. Some of the possible powers given to an Agent include: real property transactions; stock and bond transactions; banking and other financial transactions; business operating transactions, personal and family maintenance; and retirement plan transactions. The Principal can authorize the Agent to make gifts to other people or entities out of his property.

Medical Power of Attorney

A Medical Power of Attorney give the Agent the authority to make medical decisions on behalf of the Principal. This is not to be confused with an Advanced Directive. An Advanced Directive sets out the Principal’s wishes if he or she is diagnosed with either a terminal or irreversible condition—whether the Principal wishes to receive all available medical treatment, or to receive only “comfort” treatment. An Advanced Directive is often referred to as a Living Will. Only the Principal can make these decisions; no Agent is designated, and a Medical Power of Attorney does not usually give the Agent the authority to make such end-of-life decisions.

A Medical Power of Attorney, on the other hand, is used to make medical decisions if the Principal is not able to make those decisions himself. For example, if the Principal is unconscious or mentally unsound, the Agent can consent to various medical treatments—NOT end-of-life decisions—on behalf of the Principal.

Whether executing a Statutory Durable Power of Attorney or a Medical Power of Attorney, the Principal must be competent to execute the Power of Attorney. He or she must be mentally sound and have the ability to understand what he or she is doing. Therefore, if the Principal is suffering from dementia or is unconscious, no Power of Attorney can be executed.

The Principal will decide when the Power of Attorney will become effective—either immediately or only upon a medical and legal finding of incapacity.

A Power of Attorney is not permanent. It can be revoked at any time by the Principal. It can terminate on a date specified in the Power of Attorney. If the Principal is married to the Agent, the Power of Attorney is terminated if the marriage is dissolved. It terminates automatically upon the death of the Principal or the appointment by the Court of a Guardian for the Principal.

If you believe you would benefit from appointing one or more agents to act on your behalf, consult an attorney.


Teaching Pigs to Sing

Singing Pigs

For as long as I can remember, my father had a wooden sign hanging in his kitchen that said, “Never try to teach a pig to sing.  It wastes your time and annoys the pig.”  When I was growing up  I never gave it much thought;  my dad had silly signs all over his house, and this was just one of them.  When he passed away in 2010, I kept the pig sign as a memento.  It now hangs in my law office, but it now has meaning.

As an attorney I’ve come to learn that most attorneys with whom I deal are professional, courteous, respectful, and civil.  But occasionally I have to deal with someone who embodies none of those qualities.  In my early days, I tried to change them.  I thought that I could “kill ‘em with kindness,” that if I bent over backwards to treat them the way I wanted to be treated, they would eventually come around and, well, be nice.  It rarely works.

Some of these attorneys seem to believe that an aggressive, even belligerent, attitude works for them. Maybe they think it shows their clients how zealously they are advocating for them. Maybe it helps them to feel in control of the situation.  But sometimes they just seem to enjoy it.  As hard as it is for me to understand, some people just like being mean.  And getting them to change is as difficult as teaching a pig to sing—and just as hopeless an endeavor.  I read an account several years ago of an attorney who was rude and belligerent to opposing counsel, the court—everyone involved in a particular case.  His client lost the case.  He was sued for malpractice and lost.  He was eventually disbarred.  And at the end, he stated that he had no regrets, that he would not change a thing about his behavior. Dysfunctional behavior was a conscious choice that he made.

Some of my clients have to learn this about the opposing party to their case.  They want to be reasonable, amicable, reach an agreement, settle things quickly, but their spouse or former spouse wants to fight.  My clients often ask me, “Why does she act like this?”  “Doesn’t he realize that all he’s doing is running up legal fees for both of us?”  And the answer is, I don’t know!  But if the other party to a case, or that party’s attorney,  insists on acting this way, there’s probably nothing anyone can do about it.  You can’t teach a pig to sing.

The only person I have any control over is me.  I made the decision years ago that I would treat everyone-clients, opposing attorneys,  opposing parties, judges, court staff, employees, everyone-with dignity and respect.  If I can grant a favor to opposing counsel without harming my client, I’m going to do it.  If  someone wants to yell at me, fine—but I’m not going to respond in kind.  “A soft answer turneth away wrath,” in many cases. (Proverbs 15:1)   Even if it doesn’t, no good comes—and certainly no benefit to my client—if I lose my temper or behave badly.

I can’t teach a pig to sing.  But I’m not going to get down and wallow in the mud with him, either.

How To Tell if You Have a Common Law Marriage


People often appear in my office and tell me that they are “common-law married.” Further conversation usually shows that they are not, but thought they were because of misunderstandings of the law and acceptance of what others have told them.

Texas does recognize informal or “common-law” marriages. In order to show that such a marriage exists, you must meet three requirements.

  1. First, you must both have had the intent to be married. Not to get married someday, but to be married right now. In other words, you can’t get married by accident—you have to enter into this relationship, as a marriage, on purpose.
  1. Second, after forming that intent, you must have lived together as husband and wife in Texas. So if you formed the intent to be married and after that you lived together in Louisiana, but not in Texas, you do not have an informal marriage in Texas. There is no time frame for this. Often people believe that if they have lived together for six months, they are married. This is not correct—again, you can’t get married by accident! Note that you also have to live together as husband and wife. If you’ve been living in the same house but not sharing a room, you may not have a marriage.
  1. Finally, you must have presented yourself to others as husband and wife. There are numerous ways this could be shown: you refer to your partner as “my husband” or “my wife.” You use the same last name. You have joint bank accounts. You name each other as a spouse on your company health insurance. You file your taxes as married. Other people need to think you’re married, based on your behavior.

These three requirements must all be met at the same time. Failure to meet any one of them will defeat a claim of common-law marriage. OR, you can use Step #4:

  1. This is an optional step: you can register, with the county clerk, a Declaration of Informal Marriage.

You cannot enter into an informal marriage if you could not, legally, have entered into a formal marriage. You cannot marry a close relative (first cousin or closer). You can’t marry your step-parent (or step-child). You can’t get married if you are underage. You can’t get married if you are still legally married to someone else.

If it is determined that you do, in fact, have a common-law marriage but you don’t want to be married any more, can you just walk away?


A marriage is a marriage. There is no such thing as a common-law divorce. If you have established a common-law marriage, the only way “out” is through a divorce or an annulment.






Why I Practice Family Law

There are many practicing attorneys—good, competent, ethical attorneys—who want nothing to do with family law.  They say they don’t want to deal with the drama, the emotions.  And I can’t argue with them—family law does involve some very emotional issues.  There is a saying that, when it comes to family law, we are dealing with good people when they are behaving their worst.   

I love the practice of family law.  When I made the decision to go to law school, it was for the express purpose of practicing family law.

I went to law school as a non-traditional student.  Prior to applying for law school I spent 20 years as a full-time mom, raising my three sons.  My youngest son graduated from high school the same month I graduated from law school, and we had our pictures taken together in our caps and gowns.  My years with my kids were the most important of my life, and nothing I may accomplish can hold a candle to it.

I am passionate about families.  Families are the most important unit in our society today.  So you may well ask, “If families are so important, why are you in the business of splitting them up?”

 The sad truth is, some marriages fail. Some non-marital relationships fail.  There are hundreds of reasons for these failures, and the fault is almost never completely on one side or the other.  But just because the relationship fails, it does not necessarily follow that the family should fail.

When a relationship ends, the family remains.  A couple  may have decided not to be “together” any longer, but they remain Mom and Dad.  I believe that when an adult relationship ends, it is my job to guide my clients through the restructuring—not dissolving—of the family.

The ending of a relationship is painful, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the people involved should become enemies. .  There are reasons why they chose to be together, and the relationship was probably a defining part of both lives.  My goal is to help my clients to  remember the good times, the things about that person that led them to form a relationship, and then help them to move on in as peaceful a way as possible.